Ancient and Modern Macedonia

Ancient History:

Not only was Alexander’s family always Greek – so were the entire Macedonian people. This is supported by the archaeological and literary evidence. Macedonia – like many other regions of Greece – was named after a Greek Mythological person – Macedon – who the 8th century BC writer Hesiod states ‘was the son of Zeus and Thyia’ – daughter of Deucalion and Sister of Hellen – whom the Hellenes are named after. Thus Macedon was a member of the most royal of all Greek families! Its constantly surprising that most Greeks seem unaware that Macedon was an actual person! This belief was also confirmed by the 4th Century BC Macedonian Historian Marsyas of Pella.

The different regions and towns of Macedonia are also named after Macedon’s children – for example Emathia and Pieria – two key areas in Macedonia – are named after his two sons Emathus and Pierus. Many of the rivers and towns were also named after his children – a number of statues of these have been excavated in Greece that confirm that Macedon and his children were worshiped by the Ancient Macedonians as part of the pantheon of Hellenic Gods and demi-gods.

In terms of their connection to the other Greeks – the Macedonians and the Dorians - one of the largest of the ancient tribes of Greece – were the same people. Herodotus (5th Century BC) writes ‘the Lacaedmonians (i.e. Spartans – Sparta is in the region called Lacaedmonia) and the Athenians were the most pre-eminent of the Greek peoples. One is Hellenic (the Spartans) the other Ionian (Athenians). During the reign of Deucalion the Hellenes dwelt in Phthia (present day Volos in Thessaly). Under Dorus, the son of Hellen, they moved to Histiaeotis in the region around Ossa and Olympos (i.e. Thessaly). Driven from there by the Cadmeans (ie the city of Thebes in Beoetia) they settled in the Pindus Mountains (ie: Kozani/Kastoria region) where they were known as Macedonians. From there they migrated to Dryopis and finally to the Peloponnesus where they gained their present name of Dorians’.

Thus the Macedonians and Spartans were two branches of the same people. One branch travelled south to the Peloponnese (this is recorded in Greek Mythology (eg: the Library of Greek Mythology by Appollodorus) as the return of the Heraklids – the descendants of Hercules), Crete, etc. and the other travelled east from the Pindus and settled on the Macedonian plain at Aigai. During the Peloponessian war Sparta and Macedonia were allies.

Its frustrating when people say that they can claim Alexander the Great was Greek because of his Mother (who was Molossian – a Greek tribe in Epirus). The Entire Macedonian people were and are Greek – not just the royal family. Alexander the first (the Great was Alexander the 3rd – Alexander the first was his Great, Great, Great Grandfather) had his and his people’s claim to Greek descent recognised by the judges at the Olympic games in the 5th century BC (ie: 200 years before Alexander the Great was born). At the battle of Platea in his plea to the Athenians he stated ‘I myself am Greek by ancient descent’. This speech is also recorded in Herodotus. He also stated this to the Persian ambassador when Macedonia was conquered by the Persians ‘tell your Great King how a Greek – the King of Macedonia – hosted you’. Archaeological evidence shows that the Persians listed the Macedonians as a Greek People.

The Macedonians used what was essentially a Dorian Calendar. Alexander the first also set up the northern Olympic games at Dion (at the foot of Mt Olympus) in the fifth century BC – again these were games for Greeks only (hosted by the Macedonian court) – and were held in the off years between the southern Olympics.

Many people also seem unaware that the surname of the royal family was


(Temenidis) – which meant sons of Temenos – a purely Greek name! Temenos was the Great grandson of Hercules. Greek Mythology records that he was one of the returning Heraklids that recaptured the Peloponesse, and was made king of Argos (This is the reason the Macedonian royal family was also referred to as the Argead kings ie: from Argos). It was his descend Perdicus that travelled to Macedonia and became it’s king, and lead the people to the coast and built the city of Aigai in the 8th Century BC.

The name Alexander is purely Greek. Alexander was not only a name but also quite often a title. It comes from two ancient Greek words –

Alex – which means ‘to protect’ and andros

- which means ‘Man’. So Alexander literally means ‘the man that protects’. The ‘Library of Greek Mythology’ (1st Century BC/AD by Appollodorus) records that Prince Paris of Troy was also called Alexander as a title.

Finally – Philip the 5th – last king of Macedonia – when he concluded a treaty with the City of Carthage against Rome in the 2nd Century BC signed it ‘on behalf of Macedonia and the rest of Greece‘. Thus the Macedonians saw Macedonia as part of Greece – and not separate.

Modern History:

One of the key issues that Gruevski has raised recently is the issue of a ‘Macedonian Minority’ in Greece. This is primarily based upon the fact that there are a number of villages in western Macedonia that speak what they refer to as ‘Macedonian’ (dopia). A friend’s village is one example (the village of Melas in the prefecture of Kastoria. It is named after the Hero Pavlos Melas who was killed in the village in 1904 and used it as his headquarters in fighting the Turks and Bulgarians).

In this village, as well as speaking Greek, they also speak a language that they refer to as ‘Macedonian’ (dopia). However, this is a language that is completely different from what they speak in FYROM. In migrant countries such as Australia, in order to distinguish their language from the FYROM communities, they refer to it as Greek-Macedonian, thereby clearly identifying themselves with the Hellenic community and nation.

Most of this community have the view that their language developed as a bit of a mixed bag due to migration and the controlling influences of the different Bulgarian, Serbian and Turkish occupying forces during different historical periods, but that they are essentially Greek, regardless of the linguistic tradition. One of the clear signs of this is the fact that these villages continuously were part of the Greek Orthodox church – regardless of the evolution of language. The same can be said of those Greeks from Asia Minor and Pontus – they also spoke languages different from mainland Greece due to the different influences and evolution of local dialects, but very clearly identified themselves as Greek.

This is the view that Pavlos Melas and the early freedom fighters had of the issue. There is recognition of this by early turn of the century historical sources (e.g. the Museum of the Macedonian struggle in Thessaloniki) that the local populations did speak different dialects with either a slavic, vlach or albanian influence – but they considered themselves to be Greek, and were often led by a Greek military officer (such as Pavlos Melas) in the fight against the Bulgarian and Turkish forces.

While it is true that some Greek Macedonians fled to communist countries following the civil war, it is interesting to note that those who came to consider themselves as non-Greeks (i.e. Slavonic Macedonians), changed their language to use the FYROM Serbo/Bulgarian language, rather than retaining their own dialect. Most of these also changed their names – e.g. Petropoulos to Petrovski. There could therefore be a counter argument that these people were forced to change their names and language and adopt an invented ethnological identity for a political purpose, as their birth records in Greece would have them with a Greek name.

The fact is that regardless of language, the vast majority of those individual’s that viewed themselves as non-Greek moved to Bulgaria in 1919 under the treaty of Neuilly, as did the Greek populations in Bulgaria move to Greece. What the FYROM Government refers to as the populations in Northern Greece that speak ‘Macedonian’ and are therefore ‘ethnic Macedonians’ is hugely offensive.

Regardless of language, these populations, very clearly over an extended period of time – during the struggle over macedonia in the late 19th century, the early 20th century, the two Balkan wars, and the Greek Civil war – very clearly indicated that they see themselves as part of the Hellenic nation. It is hugely offensive, particularly given that Greek-Macedonian is a completely different language to what they speak in FYROM, when FYROM refers to these people as being the same as them.

They are clearly not. My friend speaks dopia fluently, yet they very clearly and very strongly views herself as Greek. It was the dopia Community in Queanbeyan that built the St Dimitrios Greek Orthodox church. They cannot understand or hold a conversation with someone from FYROM because it is a very different dialect.

Just to give you an example of how different the language is, in FYROM to say hello, how are you, they say ‘Ka-kul-se’ – the same as in Serbia. In dopia they say ‘Shore-prush’. Thank you in FYROM is ‘Falla’ – again the same as Serbian. In dopia they say ‘Spol-eye-ti’.

These Bilingual Hellenes MUST be at the forefront. Not attacking the Slavonic-Macedonians; but promoting their own identity and language as different from FYROM and a part of Greece. Bilingual Hellenes need to make this point loudly.

Inclusivity in this way we could also help those Greek Macedonians who sit on the fence – or whose families fled to Yugoslavia during the Civil War – to feeling more a part of the Greek nation. In this way we would be supporting them and their culture as part of a wider Greek culture, helping them to firmly identify as Greeks – but in a unique way – and clearly distinguishing them as separate from the FYROM culture, language, and ethnological origins.

There is also a need to have the dopia language recognised by organisations such as the ABS as seperate to that spoken in FYROM. Currently the statistics may be skewed in some communities – when migrants state that they speak ‘Macedonian’ – but are in fact referring to the language spoken in Greece – and not the FYROM language. This needs to be corrected.


© AMAC (Australian Macedonian Advisory Council)